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Grammy-nominated songwriter Tobias Jesso Jr. on his rise to prominence


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

John Yang: For most hit songs, there's a songwriter helping the singer behind the scenes. Geoff Bennett sat down with an artist who does just that with some of the biggest names in the music industry.
Geoff Bennett: Canadian-born songwriter and producer Tobias Jesso Jr. is one of pop music's most in-demand collaborators. He's now nominated for three Grammy Awards for his songwriting work alongside Adele and Harry Styles. Jesso's rise to prominence is both uniquely inspiring and in many ways totally unlikely.
Tobias Jesso Jr. joins us now. Thanks for being with us.
Tobias Jesso Jr.: Thank you for having me.
Geoff Bennett: Adele, as I'm sure you know by now, speaks very highly of you. She says that the two of you will be writing songs together for the rest of her career. Help me understand the alchemy behind the hit song that you co-wrote, When We Were Young.
Tobias Jesso Jr.: That was the first song I was ever sort of a co-writer for. That was the first session I had ever had as a as a professional songwriter was with Adele. So, I didn't really know how it was going to go. We sort of just wasted a lot of time talking to each other and getting to know each other. And it turned out to be sort of what the song was, was just kind of talking about our childhoods and how we grew up. And it sort of lead to how the song was made, which was kind of a fluke in a lot of ways.
Geoff Bennett: Well, give me one of the ways. How was it a fluke?
Tobias Jesso Jr.: Well, I mean, like usually, if I had known what we were supposed to do in session I probably would have been sitting at the piano when she arrived and had some chords ready to go. But I didn't really know what to expect, I sort of just was letting her take the lead and we just kind of ended up going outside to the garden and talking to each other for hours.
And if I had known what I know now, I probably would have never let that happen back then. But I say a fluke, because I did not know what to expect, so I just let everything happen.
Geoff Bennett: in 2015, you released your first and only solo album and then you walked away from the spotlight. Why?
Tobias Jesso Jr.: Because I'm very anxious. I was not meant to be a singer, I was not really meant to be an artist in that way. I do not really feel comfortable in that position. I always knew I wanted to write songs, but that was like as far as my nervous system would allow me to go and everything outside of that feels really uncomfortable.
Geoff Bennett: For much of your career, Tobias, you sort of lived the life of a struggling artist. Help me understand how that experience informed your music.
Tobias Jesso Jr.: I think as like a creative person, like just -- you are always searching for the sort of dopamine hit of being creative. And in a lot of ways, that beats sort of like a money system for a lot of artists. And for me, I just chose art over money. I don't know if it informed me, I just still do the same thing. I enjoy creativity more than I enjoy, you know, fame or money or anything. It is mostly about what makes me feel good. And that is just the process of being creative and writing songs more so than what you get from it.
Geoff Bennett: How is writing songs with Adele different from writing songs with John Legend or with Sia or with Florence and the Machine or any number of the different artists you've worked with?
Tobias Jesso Jr.: They are so different in some anyways and equally sort of interesting. And, you know, somebody like Florence, like she comes in with all the lyrics. She just like has all of these lyrics already.
Adele, you know, it is very much like a process of just slowly going through ideas and trying to find what you know is right for her and what all of her lyrics and stuff just herself writing in trial and error and stuff.
And then, you know, just it is different for everybody. That is sort of what I'm in love with about it all, is everyone has a different process and I feel like I am like a documentary camera and I just get to see everyone's beautiful art being made. And I do not feel like it is my job to sort of influence it as much as amplify what they are actually trying to do anyways.
Geoff Bennett: Your first professional co-writing experience was with Adele, one of the most successful artists of the day. What was that like, what was that phone call like?
Tobias Jesso Jr. I mean, it was amazing. It was not a phone call to me personally, they called my manager. But when I got to talking to them, they were like, you want to sit down for this. And when they told me, obviously, I could not believe it. But she was my favorite artist. She really was my favorite artist and I had spoken about it. And I don't know, a manifestation, who knows? I cannot figure it out myself. Still it is the most sort of unbelievable milestone in my career thus far, for sure, and the most pivotal moment in my life.
Geoff Bennett: Tobias Jesso Jr. , thanks so much for your time and good luck to you.
Tobias Jesso Jr.: Thank you for having me. Thanks for having me.
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